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Journal of the Nelson and Marlborough Historical Societies, Volume 2, Issue 1, 1987

The Yesteryears of Empire

The Yesteryears of Empire

Since March 1969, I have been aware of a very fine photograph of mounted Indian troops on parade, with colours flying at lance heads and their officers with drawn swords, moving in review order down Trafalgar Street in Nelson.

The then owner of this interesting military picture, knew nothing at all about it and requested my aid in finding the reason for the occasion, and the year in which it occurred. After much reading of copies of the Nelson Evening Mail and The Colonist, I finally found the answer, in the columns of The Colonist of January and February 1901.

The Boer War was in progress and, as was usual in those grand old days of Empire, Great Britain was looking to her Colonies for aid, something that she is a little prone to forget about today. Her military hotshots of those forgotten days, in anticipation of some help, had dispatched a troopship down to Australia and New Zealand, hoping to hot up the old patriotic spirit of her Colonial children. In short, a recruiting campaign, typical of those great Empire years.

The troopship, Britannia, was the first to arrive in N.Z. waters. She carried a variety of British Imperial Troops, but would only be calling at major ports. Nelson had not been included in its itinerary. This, of course, raised the ire of the natives of our fair City, who page 45enlisted the help of Mr Graham, M.R.H., asking him to tackle the Prime Minister, the Right Hon. R. J. Seddon. The P.M.'s answer to Mr Graham's approach was as follows:

"The Indian Troops:

The latest communications received by His Excellency the Governor from the Viceroy of India, does not hold out much hope of extending the visit of the Indian Troops. Government will endeavour, however, to arrange for visits to New Plymouth and Nelson, as all the larger centres have had the opportunity of seeing the Imperial Troops and entertaining them. There is a difficulty with the Indians with regard to food. The vessel that brings them, I do not think, can enter Nelson. However, if we can get sufficient time, we will do our best to meet the wishes of the people of Nelson.

Signed, R.J. Seddon"

On February 20 a further telegram was received. The Colonist reported:

The following telegram was received by the Mayor, Mr J. A. Harley, from the Officer Commanding the district, Capt. Wolfe, late last evening:

"Received notice from the Commander of the Forces that the Indian Troops will arrive in Nelson on Tuesday morning, and will march through the town in the afternoon. The Local Volunteers will attend, also 60 horses will be required and I am asking the Mounted Rifles to assist in providing, as it will be impossible to get from the local livery stables more than about a dozen horses. Should these measures fail, then I feel sure an appeal from you will be nobly responded to.

Signed, G. C.B. Wolfe, Capt."

A further telegram was also received from Captain Woofe saying that Colonel Pope Penton and his Staff would be present. Penton was in charge of the Indian Troops.

The Mayor, Mr J. A. Harley, stated that the ship Dalhousie would stay over only one tide. She was carrying 100 troops in all, which included 34 Native Officers and 66 noncommissioned ranks. These represented all the Castes of India, and 61 different Regiments, including Guides, Gurkhas and Bengal Lancers, with many noted men among them.

Indian troops at the Botanies. Tyree Collection NPM.

Indian troops at the Botanies. Tyree Collection NPM.

page 46

The Order of March was to be from the Port, via Bridge Street, Trafalgar Street, round Church Hill to Nile Street, down Collingwood Street, Hardy Street, and Trafalgar Street, up Bridge Street, to the Botanical Reserve.

At the Botanical Reserve, they were to be supplied with refreshments, (no spiritous liquor) and speeches would be made.

The Wharf was to be roped off and no persons, other than Officials, would be allowed on it. This precaution was apparently because of a spot of bother when the 3rd or the 4th Contingent left for South Africa.

The Dalhousie duly arrived, on the morning of February 26, 1901 and was very ably berthed by Pilot Cox. He received the congratulations of the Skipper and the Commanding Officer for a jolly nice piece of work.

The wharf presented a busy and animated scene, as orderlies rushed around saddling horses and getting equipment organised. Soon the troops were mounted and trying out their steeds. Some of the nags were a bit frisky at first, but the Indian troopers were excellent horsemen and soon had them under control.

The Parade moved off, the right of the line being the many-coloured and multiuniformed mounted visitors. They were followed by the Gurkhas, foot soldiers and the Nelson Volunteers, with the Wakatu Mounted Rifles bringing up the rear. The Prime Minister, The Right Hon. Richard John Seddon, and Mrs Seddon, had arrived on the Tutanekai and, after reviewing the Parade through the Nelson streets, proceeded to the Botanical Reserve for the Official Welcome.

The Colonist newspaper carried almost three colums of print of the event. It included a small notation that, as there were insufficient horses available in Nelson, a party was sent over to Motueka, to borrow the horses of the Motueka Mounted Rifles which, of course, had to be returned there, after the Parade.

All in all, it was a truly great day for our City and environs. Flags and bunting lined the streets and a huge crowd turned out for the occasion. In the evening, a Grand Ball was laid on which was, apparently, most spactacular. The following morning, the troops were taken for a train ride out into the country, which must have been a delightful experience. In the afternoon the Dalhousie sailed on the tide.